When Google decided to shift to 100% renewable energy, it worked directly with wind and solar farms to sign deals. A new U.K.-based startup called Squeaky lets small businesses easily do the same thing at a smaller scale–business owners can choose a wind farm to support, and then start buying renewable electricity at the same price they were paying for energy from fossil fuels.
In the past, it wasn’t an option. “The U.K. supply market is dominated by six very large integrated suppliers, and typically they haven’t offered a renewable tariff because they are primarily fossil fuel generators, so it’s pretty difficult for them to allocate specific renewable generation from their portfolio to specific customer supply,” says Squeaky founder Chris Bowden, who has 27 years of energy industry experience.
Other specialist suppliers have offered renewable energy at a premium. Squeaky’s platform allows businesses to buy directly from producers, so producers can earn more while customers don’t pay extra.
“The typical margin between a generator and customer might be 20% to 50% depending on the size of the transaction, and much of this margin is lost on intermediaries, credit costs, trading costs, and high-legacy industry costs, including inefficient systems and processes,” says Bowden. “Squeaky is able to cut this margin in half so both sides benefit.”
Customers can choose to buy electricity from a specific wind or solar farm (like other off-site renewable electricity, since renewable electrons can’t be tracked on the grid, customers pay for the amount of energy they use rather than operating directly on wind power). Squeaky plans to begin to use blockchain technology to track the energy supplied on the platform.
If a particular wind farm isn’t generating enough energy at the time that it’s needed, the platform automatically sources it from another generator. The startup currently works with five wind farms and one solar farm. If it needs more supply, it also has a partnership with Europe’s largest renewable generator, which uses sources such as hydropower.
“We install smart meters as standard for all our customers so we have the data to enable us to predict these pinch points, and in time we plan to introduce battery storage into some of our customers’ premises to cover these gaps in supply, and also coordinate generation and supply on the platform,” says Bowden.
The rapid growth of independent renewable generators, driven by the falling cost of wind and solar, makes a platform like Squeaky possible.
“Fifteen years ago, when 50 power stations in the U.K. supplied nearly all of the U.K.’s electricity needs, Squeaky couldn’t have existed, but now there a few thousand distributed generators, so you now have the building blocks of a true marketplace,” he says.